There’s that old saying, that says it takes a village to raise a child. There’s another assumption about villages, that each of them has their own idiot. I think we can agree with that, if we concede that each village likely has its own genius as well. The genius is probably a man, which will hopefully delight men; but the idiot is most likely a man as well, so maybe that’s one for the ladies.
I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that very few people live in villages these days. It’s easy to assume that we can modify that old saying, and say it takes a town or a city to raise a child, but what if we’re wrong? What if the people that made up that saying in the first place were not cautioning us against raising our young in a familial bubble, but that they were warning us against the dangers of raising kids in densely populated areas?
Studies are finally beginning to show what many of us have known all along: parents are not as important as they like to think they are. Children are more deeply influenced by their peers than they are their parents, and modern kids are less dependent on their parents than ever when it comes to actual personal development. It’s a good thing, since parents are generally so self-involved and delusional that they actually think they’re doing the hardest job in the world. What a dangerous myth we have perpetuated, there. It’s time to face the fact that where a child is raised is much more important than who does the raising.
Cities are not new, but it may be that the way we lay them out is. Some places really do resemble a series of villages, in some ways; but most modern American cities are made for easy in and out travel, and convenient commuting between neighborhoods. That’s great for commerce, but it might not be the best place to raise a kid.
Villages are even older than cities, and plenty of them exist to this day. The only threat to the village is the encroaching city, and the only hope for the city is a return to the village. That’s another scary clock, ticking down along with all the others. While we still have an opportunity, let’s have a look at this thing that it takes to raise a child.
Villages are generally small in population, around a hundred to a hundred-fifty people. It makes sense that a group that size would indeed yield an idiot and a genius about once a generation; it turns out they need them both. It’s just as important to see that others can screw up even worse than us as it is to see that others can do things we can’t do better than we can imagine doing it. When you know both of those people, as you tend to do in a population that size, you don’t tease the one and mock him behind his back; and you don’t worship the other, or let him do your thinking for you.
Knowing both of those people on a personal level teaches you to have compassion for the one and a healthy admiration for the other. One feeling makes you a better person that learns to be more forgiving and accepting, even of yourself; the other makes you a better person by keeping you both humble and hopeful.
Between the extreme intellectual examples, there are a range of other examples for the young person to learn from in this idyllic scenario. Hunters and gatherers and builders and elders are all accessible to the youth as she or he grows, and a wide range of survival skills are learned long before any child reaches adulthood.
When they do reach adulthood, they go through a rite of passage. They take their place in the community, and are often humbled by the opportunity to provide for the village that raised them at last. They know they’ll never be made fun of, or placed on an unrealistic pedestal, or driven out of a social circle; everyone in a village has their place, even the village idiot.
Step it up a bit, size-wise, and you get a town. Do you know what is commonly found in towns, so commonly that there is a saying for that too? It’s the town drunk, the guy or gal that no one gives a damn about and that has never managed to learn to give a damn about themselves. We don’t get cycles of addiction until we start clustering in larger numbers, and we don’t get much in the way of violent crime or theft or psychopathy until a small group is put in place to rule over those large numbers.
Good thing they’re so keen on building prisons, and filling them.
Of course, not all societies lock people away for a variety of reasons stated and unstated; some just kill folks they find offensive to the current regime. On the other end of the spectrum, some modern societies have found methods of rehabilitation that actually work. The prisons in these places are not private institutions that get paid more than most Americans every year for each prisoner they keep locked up, and they aren’t notorious for engineering homosexual rape as a punishment for virtually every crime punishable with doing time.
That’s right, a few places in the world treat their prisoners like people, and make sure they are put through rehabilitation programs that work virtually every time. The number of repeat offenders in these places is low enough that it’s a little shocking to find so few other countries implementing similar models. It’s way cheaper, and far more effective; who wouldn’t want that?
But that’s a subject for another day.
Surely the two topics have nothing to do with each other.
Villages often pass the time in fun activities in which there is no winner or loser, and in which participants learn or hone valuable life skills. In their attempt to imitate this self-esteem building model, American schools have done exactly the opposite. They have modified games with clear winners and losers to be purposeless, and the only lesson kids are learning is that they get rewarded no matter what they do. These aren’t children that know how to hunt or fish or garden, like their counterparts in these villages; these are kids that need to be taught to compete, since that’s what is waiting for them in the world they’re not being prepared for.
I mentioned hunting, fishing and gardening for a reason. It has seemed both obvious and important to me for a long time to stay somewhat in touch with the process that feeds my body. People in villages are way more aware of the process than I am, at least experientially; but that doesn’t mean I can’t see how being out of touch with where our food comes from has made us quite a bit different than them. After growing up in a rural area, I moved to a more populated spot to begin my adult life. I was a little shocked at how a lot of the people I met felt about hunting, and was completely unsurprised to find that urban attitudes about such things were full of consequences that folks in the country don’t have any trouble dealing with.
We’ll talk about what hunting has done to help and hurt our country, next week. We’ll also talk about the dangers of engineering hunting laws that give certain wild animals the deadly combination of few predators and little prey. There’s more to it than I pretend to understand, but I do know one thing that freaks me out a little…
They’re eating our pets!
Come back, next week, and we’ll talk about it.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,